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Archive for October, 2013

Life can be difficult sometimes, it gets bumpy. What with family and kids and things not going exactly like you planned. But that’s what makes it interesting. In life the first act is always exciting. The second act, that is where the depth comes in. (Joyce Van Patten)

Thanks to my savvy brother, my father’s house has been transformed—from worn and dreary to modern and beautiful. Floors shine; appliances sparkle. Even the landscape feels different. The family homestead is for sale.

The memories are not. They simply don’t live in the same space anymore. My siblings and I need to maintain them, in our own ways. Strange how the moments I recall first aren’t necessarily the most significant. I smell Mom’s chicken soup wafting into the living room and up the stairs into my room. Our food budget wasn’t huge, but Mom could make a feast out of almost nothing. Then there was Christmas, the house uncluttered for a change, the lights from the tree reflecting in the front picture window. I watched more television as a child than I do now. Bullwinkle Moose acted as a perfect companion to homework, at least I thought he did. The television is where I learned about the Harlem Globetrotters and laughed with my father, deep hearty guffaws that expanded me a bit because I hated sports. Gym and I were oil and water. I didn’t throw like a girl—any round object could throw me. Meadowlark Lemon lightened my approach.

Not every memory brings a smile. Life doesn’t work that way. Grief, death, and trauma also touched those seven rooms. However, they didn’t live there. They moved on, as the clock moved from one hour to the next, as my parents accepted heaven’s invitation.

Sunday, just before I entered the small area where my church community gathers, I spoke with a man who said he had just found a place to live. His apartment had been sold, so he had been kicked out. He said someone gave him a sandwich, but it was getting cold. I heated it for him in the microwave. He didn’t seem to know how to use one. I was struck with how much I take for granted.

I always grew up in a house, small maybe, but a house. My father called me his little girl even as I reached my sixties. My childhood is gone, at least externally. My parents live with the angels. Nevertheless, I am grateful, for the good and the bad. I wouldn’t be me without both.

May I live in this day, with whatever comes, and find its blessings. Peace upon all.

enough

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A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life. (William Arthur Ward)

My raincoat may repel the drizzle, but cold penetrates the coat’s surface anyway. Maybe I’d better get the gloves out soon. However, as soon as the revolving door of Mercy Hospital spins open, a blast of warmth runs through me. That sudden change reminds me that today is my second son’s birthday. Steve is the practical talent son. He holds a belt in Six Sigma; he’s the thinking-out-of-the-box problem solver of the family. Steve has a lemonade-out-of-lemons attitude. The party starts when he arrives. “Nobody is sillier than Uncle Steve,” one of his young nephews claims.

When Steve was a kid he would sneak a pony between cereal and eggs on my grocery list. He would walk with his arm around my shoulders at the mall without fear that one of his friends would see him being attentive to his mother. Sure, kids learn from their parents, but it works the other way around, too.

Last week we needed an old smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector replaced. Steve had little time to do it. However, he managed to replace our detector and get his daughter, Ella, home to bed at a reasonable time, too. He didn’t complain.

Steve plays an active role in Ella’s development even though he works sixty hours a week. While Ella has Down syndrome, there is nothing down about her smile—or her daddy’s.

Yes, Ella’s Daddy will get the standard birthday gift, but sometimes words need to be spoken—or written. There are other folk like my Steve, people who give just because it is the right thing to do, because it is who they are. Blessings to all of them as well; to all of you, peace.

live like someone left the gate open

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Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play. (Heraclitus, philosopher, 500 BCE)

Sometimes what begins as a mistake can end right-side-up.

I’ve left physical therapy and I’m on my way to pick up Rebecca from kindergarten. Her daddy calls my cell phone. Both Daddy and I remembered the wrong dismissal time. Rebe’s big sister is in fourth grade now. That seems like longer ago than it is. Morning kindergarten ends at 11:00, not 11:30. Since the time in my car reads 11:10, the chance of a punctual arrival doesn’t exist. My ancient Toyota has no time-machine properties. In fact it locks and unlocks with an old-fashioned key—not a remote control.

“Rebe’s okay,” my son assures me. “She’s in the office.”

Now I need to keep the speed somewhere close to the limit. The needle on the gauge wants to jump into the panic zone, next to how I feel. However, after turning left instead of right only once, I arrive. My granddaughter has the attention of everyone in the office. She trusts that Grandma will come. Her smile calms me immediately.

Since Grandpa is out-of-town until Tuesday he couldn’t have helped. Her babysitter isn’t available today. We would never have planned for the office to take over for a half hour. But today it worked, and I’m grateful. My therapy didn’t end until 11:00.

“We have six hours of Grandma-Rebe time,” I tell my granddaughter.

“Is that long?”

“Long enough to have lunch, go swimming, and have dinner together.”

“Yay! Can we go to your house, too?” she asks.

“Don’t see why not. It’s our day. Let’s play follow the leader. You lead.”

“The kids stay on this side of the sidewalk because it’s safer. We had a fire drill today, with fake smoke. I kept away from it though because we were learning what to do if it was real.” Rebe walks as if she were on a tightrope. My act looks less natural. I consider it a privilege to follow the kids’ route.

I watch my granddaughter and know the example I follow is worthy. She enjoys the moment, recognizes its beauty.

“What are you going to dress up as for Halloween?” I ask.

“Rosie, the Riveter.”

“Great. That’s history. From what was called World War II. Did you know that Rosie, the Riveter is older than I am?”

“Older than Mommy, too.”

I’m grateful for swallowed laughter. Our little girl’s feelings get hurt when she thinks I’m laughing at her, not her innocence. Rebe’s mommy is a tall, attractive brunette—she’s the same age as my son. However, time and age are relative terms in our kindergartener’s world. When she turned six a little over a week ago, she told her daddy, “In ten years I can drive.”

Right now I would rather play follow the leader, and act as if time didn’t exist. This day is precious. The gift of unconditional love abounds. And I’m enfolded in its child-sized arms.

Rosie-The-Riveter-Button

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What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. (Chief Crowfoot, Native American warrior and orator, 1821-1890)

The rumble of drills, hammers, and machinery runs from the curb to our basement. We are getting new gas lines this morning. The connection must be occurring right now; I smell it. The energy of the work extends from the basement to the living room floor. Nevertheless, reaching for the ceiling while using my core muscles, I finish one back exercise and begin the next. Let the work on the street and in my basement continue. Let me trust that it will be completed well, that all will be well—whether it appears to be or not.

At least my husband and I know our blue spruce will be spared. When we saw the painted yellow planning line on the grass next to it we feared that our friend of at least thirty-seven years would be lost.

When our evergreen was planted as a sapling our older son, Gregory, was a toddler. It was planted for him. We have pictures somewhere of him watering it, in the days when he could touch the ground with his head without bending his knees. Our son is now a father of two girls and the author of two books. “Open Mike” came out recently. The tree is the front yard. It’s a bed and breakfast for birds in any season. At one time my husband and I considered moving. Our son’s first thought was about the loss of the tree. It arrived as a gift from my husband’s uncle who owned a nursery at the time. That gift has cost us a fortune in maintenance. The tree contracted a fungal disease and blue spruce isn’t covered by any health insurance policy. Fortunately, treatment has brought color back into our spruce’s limbs.

The tree represents life. Birds thrive in our evergreen’s branches despite snow, wind, or rain. Yet, they remain prey for hawks and other predators. We have seen scattered feathers and dead sparrows, an occasional Cooper’s Hawk, a squirrel feasting on the birds’ seed.

If our spruce had been lost, it nevertheless would have been a symbol of life. And we would have mourned it. But it carries on and reaches for the sky, as I do with the final exercise count as I strengthen my core muscles and feel the smallest twinge of pain in the small of my back. It’s okay. Anything worthwhile has its cost. Eighteen, nineteen, twenty…finished for now.

blue spruce

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Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart. (Confucius)

Kate sits on my bed with my guitar between her knees as I tell her the names for the strings: E, A, D, G, B, and E. Some of the strings are as much as a full step sharp. They need considerable adjustment. Pain has curtailed my playing for longer than I’d like to admit.

“One of the first things you are going to need is an electronic tuner,” I tell my granddaughter. On the bed isn’t the best place to play, but we aren’t going to get as far as a real song. Not yet. We’ll just see where the open chords are, and how they sound.

I hold my Big Baby Taylor for the first time in a long while. The weight feels precious in my lap and I realize I’ve missed her even if she hasn’t missed me. “This is what a minor chord sounds like and this is how a major chord sounds. They each have a different feel.”

Kate listens carefully and I realize that one chord is not enough to show a mood, just as a single word is never sufficient to give an adequate view of anything. I should have played at least a phrase or two. A first impression isn’t always accurate either. When one of my water exercise classes became aqua zumba, I thought, I dance like a cardboard cutout. I’ll never learn it. The class has ended now and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

“Taylor,” Kate says looking at my case. She’s a Taylor Swift fan and loves the song, “White Horse.” I hold my breath, unsure how much my nine-year-old granddaughter understands about romantic relationships. The love inherent in everyday giving seems sufficient for a girl who still treasures her American Girl dolls.

“Your turn.” I give her the guitar back. “This is an expensive instrument. But I trust you.”

Kate’s E-minor sounds amazingly crisp for a first-time try. She and I both smile. She talks about all the instruments she wants to play. And I encourage her.

“Not going to be easy,” I say hoping my smile hasn’t faded. “But it will be worth it.”

Kate may not be old enough to be in double-digits yet, but she’s seen the ups and downs of life already. One of her school mates died of cancer this summer. Another friend was disabled by a freak accident when she was three-years-old. Kate has volunteered at the Free Store. She knows designer clothes are not her natural right.

She has no idea how beautiful she really is.

“You play,” she says.

There isn’t much time before Daddy will be here so I show her a few chords: C, G, E, and F, using a variety of strums and picking patterns.

“That sounds pretty,” she says.

“You can do it, too. And more.”

Her long legs are tucked under her and I suspect her thoughts reach into possibilities. No, I can’t see her thoughts, only her expression and glistening eyes. I suspect she sees some day, far away. I see now, a fourth-grade-girl with the world ahead of her.

Wherever you go, go with all your heart, Kate. Go with all your heart.

secret of genius child Optimism Revolution

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Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. (Henry Ford)

Pain has lightened in my legs and knees at least for a while. The exercises for my back feel familiar and I move with hope. The feeling extends outside the borders of the physical into the impossible—or at least it appears that way.

One of my best friends is coming to our house to celebrate his birthday. I enjoy preparing special meals for the people I love. He likes custard pie. So does my husband.  In my enthusiasm I forget about the blog I wrote on September 9, 2012, “Recipe for Bowl Pie.”

Because of an asthmatic condition I use steroid inhalers. They make my hands tremble. Spilled egg and sugar mixture in a hot oven trigger the smoke alarm. Not only is the sound set at cat-fight high-pitch offensive, the smoke could interrupt a trained athlete’s breathing. Last year I made my friend’s pie in an old Pyrex bowl, and the experiment worked.

This year I forget about that trick and focus only on my final creation. I make a beautiful whole wheat crust in a standard pie plate.

Ack! Ack! Triple ack!. Just what do you think you are doing, Ter, I think as I remember the pour-into-crust step?

But I am in a hey-you-are-going-to-beat-this-back-problem mode. So, why not tackle the shaky-fingers situation as well?

When the filling is ready I pour it into a liquid measuring cup and transfer half of it into the crust. Then, when the pie is on the oven shelf, protected by a cookie sheet, I carefully pour the rest. Pushing the shelving back inside and closing the oven door takes an extra breath and some patience, but the filling cooperates.

Okay, this is not a cooking blog. I write about positive outlook. But here is my custard filling recipe anyway for anyone who wants to make an easily prepared dessert. The crust recipe came from a cookbook, with a few personal adjustments of course.

Set oven to 350 degrees. Warm two cups skim milk or plain Greek yogurt thinned with skim milk. Add one-half to two-thirds cup of sugar over stove while also warming crust in the oven. I add nutmeg to the custard mix, but it can be placed across the top of the pie just before going into the oven. Warming the crust and filling at the same time keeps the bottom from getting soggy. When the milk and sugar reach steam level, whisk in three beaten extra-large eggs and about a teaspoonful of vanilla. Pour into warmed, but not fully baked crust (approximately five minutes). Sprinkle with chopped or slivered nuts if desired. Bake for about 45 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Refrigerate.

Then celebrate transformation. Ordinary eggs have blended with sweetness and milk. They have abandoned their preconceived notions of who they are to become something else.  I have to admit I don’t always like the baking part of change in my life, the heat and the work. But willingness to give yields something better.

Here is a picture of the finished pie, now only a memory.

pie

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